The Victorian government has declared an early end to native timber harvesting in the state by the close of 2024.
This decision dramatically accelerated the original plan announced by the Andrews government in 2019, which targeted phasing out native timber logging by 2030.
Premier Daniel Andrews noted, “It’s not good enough for us to just cross our fingers and hope for the best. We need a plan to support workers, their families and support local jobs.”
He added, “That’s why we’re stepping up to give these workers – and their communities, businesses, and partners along the supply chain – the certainty they deserve.”
According to Environmental Minister Ingird Scott, the transition will see the largest expansion to public forests in Victorian history – “protecting precious biodiversity and endangered species.”
Liberal Senator Jonathon Duniham: Ban will have disastrous production and environmental impacts
In an interview with Sky News Australia, Liberal Senator Jonathon Duniam says banning the logging of Victorian timber is just “offshoring the demand” and ensuring the environmental and productivity impacts will be “disastrous”.
Senator Duniam was the immediate past Assistant Minister responsible for forestry under the Morrison Government (2018-2022).
He said, “We’re just offshoring the demand for this product and of course with it some pretty disastrous environmental impacts and of course all the jobs that go with it too.”
“There is no winner out of this and it’s only going to get worse.”
Forestry Australia: Forests are too important
According to Forestry Australia’s President Dr. Michelle Freeman, blanket bans of native forest harvesting will not improve carbon balance or recover biodiversity according to the professional association for forest scientists, growers and managers.
President Dr Michelle Freeman said the consensus of independent scientific experts, forest managers, and researchers is that active management of forests is required to maintain forest health, mitigate fire risk, conserve biodiversity and maximize carbon outcomes.
“Although on face-value decisions to end native forest harvesting may appear to be a win for the environment, Victoria and Western Australia are now facing a range of unintended negative consequences,” Dr Freeman said in a media statement issued on Tuesday, the 6th of June 2023.
“These decisions have been made without clear alternate strategies or funding for the active management and monitoring that is required. Passive approaches will actually risk our forests at a time when their key threats – bushfire, invasive species and climate change – are still increasing.
Additionally, the rapid exit of specialist skills, experience, knowledge and equipment from the forest management space is reducing our capacity to implement effective forest management plans and mitigate or respond effectively to bushfire emergencies.
“The serious implications of this cannot be overstated, and urgent investment in strategies to retain these people and implement strategic management programs is needed.
“In addition, a significant increase in imports of timber from overseas is already occurring – representing increased carbon emissions, reduced oversight of the sustainability of management practices yielding those products, and a shirking of our moral and ethical responsibility to meet local demand locally.
“Simply ending native forest timber harvesting will not act to solve the complex challenges facing our forests, nor act to meet society’s needs.
“These issues are too important to let politics and ideology drive decision-making.
“We need a strategy for the ongoing management of forests – one that is based on genuine science, the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the collective knowledge and lived experiences of the people who have dedicated their lives to evidence-based care for our forests,” Dr Freeman said.
Updated support service details
The Victorian government has published information for downstream supply chain manufacturers of hardwood products, such as flooring, furniture, staircases, balustrades, architectural features, cladding, and pallets, which will be available through the Government’s Timber Supply Chain Resilience Package.
Manufacturers wishing to access support from the Timber Supply Chain Resilience Package are encouraged to register their interest nowto be notified when the program opens in early July.
For further information please visit the Victorian Forestry Plan website or contact the following numbers:
- Native timber sawmill employers: DEECA Forest Transition Team 1800 318 182.
- Directly impacted native timber workers and families: Worker Support Service 1800 177 001.
- Directly impacted Opal Maryvale Mill workers and families: Opal Worker Support Service 1800 177 001.
- Native timber workers, families and communities seeking jobs, skills and training support: TAFE Gippsland Jobs and Skills Centre 1300 282 317.
Australian Labor Party split on Native Forest Ban
The Age reports that not all Labor MPs agree with the decision, especially those in Canberra.
Three federal MPs said they disagreed with the decision to bring forward the ban and were furious with how the news has been delivered to communities.
“This is not the way you do things,” one federal Labor MP said.
Victoria’s former Chief Fire Officer supported a more targeted approach
Ewan Waller, the former chief fire officer who also worked in forestry, said he believed a more targeted approach to native harvesting 20 or 30 years ago could have stopped the need for a ban.
“Through mismanagement, we end up where we are. A cheap political decision that suits inner Melbourne but leaves remote parts of Victoria out to dry,” Mr. Weller said.
Bushfire risks from climate change was a bigger and more complex threat, and abruptly banning native harvesting would not automatically make state forest safe, he said.
$875 million transition package
Treasurer Tim Pallas unveiled a $200 million transition package for the industry as part of the 2023/24 Victorian Budget.
The latest package brings the forestry transition support to more than $875 million, including worker support services and investments to smooth the transition to plantation timber.
In a media statement that coincided with the budget, the State Government advised that forest contractor workers will be secured with contracts for forest management works, enabling them to continue to work in the forests they know so well and contribute to bushfire risk reduction.
In terms of practical support, the package will offer workers the opportunity to retrain in sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, transport, and construction through the government’s Free TAFE program.
Up to $8,000 in retraining vouchers will also be available for courses outside the TAFE sector. Native timber mills will have the option of a voluntary transition package, regardless of whether they decide to remain in timber processing or move to a different sector.
The Victorian Forest Products Association estimates that more than 21,000 people work in forestry and the wood products industry.
More than 4,000 people work across the native forestry supply chain.
Despite the government’s support package, the early closure announcement has shocked the industry.
Victorian timber towns angered by shutdown
Despite the government’s support package, some of the industry’s workers have been left reeling from the early closure announcement.
Forestry consultant Garry Squires said around 25 percent of the jobs in his town of Orbost in East Gippsland are in native logging.
“There’s been a lot of work going into planning for 2030 close down, trying to look at new options for the future,” he told ABC Radio Victoria.
“If this is actually brought forward… that will be devastating because we’re just not ready.”
He said the announcement will resolve uncertainty for some workers and their families, but others have no alternative employment options.
“The morale since November last year… with the court case, has been pretty low. It’s hard when you don’t know if you’re going to have a job into the future.”
Where will the timber come from?
According to Deb Kerr, CEO of the Victorian Forest Products Association (VFPA), the decision to close down the native resource accelerate a growing wood supply problem.
“Our use of wood fibre will not suddenly disappear. Today’s question throws up questions for tomorrow – how will we build homes for our growing population? How will Victoria satisfy its need for wood, brown paper, and cardboard if not from Victoria?” Kerr asked.
Kerr claimed that Victoria already imported more structural timber (softwood) than any other state or territory – and by 2050, global demand will outstrip supply by four to one.
“Victoria needs to face its growing wood supply risk and have a difficult conversation. If we as a state want to be less dependent on interstate and overseas imports, the government must get serious about working with industry,” Kerr said.
That means co-investing in plantation expansion and wood-fiber product alternatives.
Foresters: Decision is motivated by ideology, not science
President of Forestry Australia, Dr. Michelle Freeman said the decision was a big step backward for sustainability.
“There are few production systems on the globe that offer stronger sustainability credentials than well-managed native forests. In fact, we know that well-managed native forests can actually provide superior biodiversity, fire, and climate outcomes.”
Highlighting the far-reaching implications of this decision, Freeman points out that the potential impacts on firefighting resources, as well as the role and partnerships with Traditional Owners in the management of native forests, haven’t been adequately considered.
Freeman warns that the decision also has serious implications for the mental health, well-being, and economic stability of regional communities.
“We need to acknowledge that this decision will disproportionately impact the mental health, well-being, and economics of regional communities that depend on the native sector,” stressing the potential human toll of this policy shift.
Union Boss quits Victorian Forest Advisory Committee over ban
The union representing timber workers accused the state government of failing to consult the industry. It said the “gut-wrenching” decision would result in up to 1000 more short-term job losses than anticipated.
“It’s a shame that [Andrews] only governs for Melbourne, Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo,” the CFMEU’s Manufacturing Division National Secretary, Michael O’Connor, said. “If you’re in any other part of the state, you don’t get a look in.”
Michael O’Connor is a director of Responsible Wood (which manages the Australian Standard for Sustainable Forest Management) and co-chair of the newly appointed Strategic Forests and Renewable Materials Partnership. The new body will act as a National Advisory Group for the Federal Government.
On Wednesday, O’Connor resigned from the Victorian Forest Advisory Committee over a ‘lack of consultation with the committee.’
In an interview with AAP, O’Connor called into question the committee’s credibility – with the decision to end native harvesting without prior consultation with the committee.
“The advisory committee was, quite frankly, a sham,” he said.
“The union is not interested in being a prop for the state’s media unit.”
Mr. O’Connor blasted a transition plan as “government rhetoric.”
“Last time I looked, training wasn’t a job,” he said.
“The government has rushed this announcement (and) hasn’t consulted anybody.”
It’s time for a National Cabinet Discussion on forest resource security
According to the Australian Forest Products Association (AUFPA) CEO Joel Fitzgibbon, the decision will result in even more hardwood being imported into Victoria from Tasmania and NSW.
Fitzgibbon is urging for a National Cabinet discussion to establish a forest plan for securing hardwood resources for the nation’s economic needs.
In an open letter published in Wood Central, Fitzgibbon calls on the Federal Government for immediate engagement with the States, stating, “Australia is already a net importer of forestry product,” he states.
“Just as Australian investors are coming to realise the greater role forestry can play in addressing climate exchange and how much more we can do with carbon-storing-wood in the built environment, some state governments seem intent on killing the sector.”
In an article titled ‘Andrews Government surrender to environmental activities’ published in the Australian, Fitzgibbon called for a considered discussion around the future of Australia’s sustainable forest resources.
“If we are serious about reviving our manufacturing sector, protecting jobs, addressing climate change, and building more housing with sustainable and renewable timber, we need to put more trees in the ground and accept that industry needs ongoing access to Australia’s native estate, managed sustainably to the strictest environmental standards.”
Industry: Jobs and families hung out to dry
The VFPA CEO Deb Kerr, strongly criticised the Victorian Government’s decision to accelerate the 2030 plan.
In a media statement obtained by Wood Central, Kerr described the move as “disgraceful,” indicating it bypasses current and upcoming court rulings and prioritises financial considerations over people’s livelihoods.
This is supported by Gavin Matthew, CEO of the Engineered Wood Products Association of Australia (EWPAA).
“This kind of baseless decision undermines any long-term certainty needed by industry or workers to make essential investment or employment decisions. This is a sad day for sustainable native forest management and a sad day for Victoria,” Gavin Matthew said.
The Australian Forest Contractors Association (AFCA), which represents members impacted directly by the decision, said, “Unfortunately, this is
an outcome that has far-reaching impacts for businesses, families and communities,” Carlie Porteous, General Manager of AFCA.
The decision breaches Victoria’s Building Policies
According to Dr. Alaister Woodard, CEO of Wood Products Victoria, the decision contradicts Victoria’s own building policies – noting that consumers want “sustainable, renewable certified, locally produced timbers.”
Woodard predicts a surge in imports, should local supply be cut off, potentially from tropical hardwood forests. This scenario, he warns, could bring about negative consequences, such as lower environmental regulations, substandard safety practices, and higher costs.
Woodard criticised the Andrews Government’s preference for imported hardwood products. He believes the assumption that imported goods are superior to locally grown and manufactured ones is fundamentally flawed, declaring it “pervasively wrong.”
Response from the Opposition
The Coalition in Victoria, however, said the decision signified the “final death warrant” of the industry in Victoria.
Reported by Sky News Australia, Deputy Leader of The Nationals Emma Kealy said the government’s decision is “based on politics” and will cause untold damage to regional communities.
“Daniel Andrews and Labor are punishing regional Victorian communities to advance a radical green agenda that panders to inner-city Greens voters,” she said.
“So many communities rely on the timber industry for their survival and will be shattered by this decision.
“Without the timber industry’s man power and heavy machinery, our capacity to fight bushfires will be significantly reduced, putting our forests and regional communities in harm’s way.
“This decision will kill our timber industry and cause untold damage to our regional communities.”
According to Federal National MP Darren Chester – who represents the Gippsland region, “the Andrews Labor government has kicked every hard-working native timber industry family in the guts today.”
- Wood Central will update the story as more information becomes available.